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UN scales back operation in Pakistan's Baluchistan

The United Nations has scaled back its operations in Pakistan's restive Baluchistan region after a threat made by separatists who kidnapped an American aid worker earlier this year, officials said on Thursday.

world Updated: Jul 30, 2009 16:43 IST

The United Nations has scaled back its operations in Pakistan's restive Baluchistan region after a threat made by separatists who kidnapped an American aid worker earlier this year, officials said on Thursday.

Baluch separatists have been waging a low-level insurgency in the impoverished but oil-rich southwest of Pakistan for decades. But the insurgency had not been known to target foreigners until this year, when a group kidnapped the head of the UN refugee agency's operations in the region and held him for two months. Last week, the same group, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, issued a statement to local media threatening the UN, "We unfortunately did have to scale back our operation in Baluchistan, which we regret as we were ready to implement several projects," including some on agriculture and women's issues, UN national information officer Ishrat Rizvi said.

Janos Tisovszky, the UN information center's director, said the situation was being assessed as "the United Nations takes its staff security very, very seriously."

Officials would not elaborate on how far the UN operations would be cut back, citing security concerns, but said all UN agencies in the area would be affected.

The refugee agency UNHCR temporarily closed its Voluntary Repatriation Center, which helps Afghan refugees return home, for operational reasons, spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said. She would not say whether the closure was due to the threat.

The Baluchistan Liberation United Front claimed responsibility for the February kidnapping of John Solecki, who headed the UN refugee agency's operations in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta. The group threatened to behead Solecki and issued a grainy video of him blindfolded and pleading for help. They eventually released him in April, but his driver was killed during the initial abduction.